Patience and Sports Medicine

The other day I worked with a young man who is a highschool wrestler. He had injured his back last summer doing a lifting job. He had also sprained his ankle during a wrestling practice. Although he was in a great deal of pain during his practices and matches, the last thing that he wanted was to stop wrestling. What he wanted from me was a way to feel better and to keep wrestling. His low back behaved like it had a disc problem or or mildly 'slipped disc'. This is not uncomon in young people. In fact, disc problems are more prevelent in young to middle adulthood. As we get older, the jelly like disc center drys out somewhat and a 'slipped disc' or herniated disc is less common, but other types of back problems can develop.

With one treatment session this young man was able to bend forward and backward further with less pain. He was able to move more freely in his low back joints which takes some of the stress off the discs. I also gave him a self-treatment exercise and some change in his movement patterns to protect his low back. I reminded him of how the Olympic power lifters lift. They squat and poke out their butts to maintain the natural lumbar curve inward (lordosis) and lift with their legs and arms. This position protects the lumbar spine from potentially injurious bending during lifting. With good hip and knee bending during a squat, bending at the back is not necessary. I told him that this was something to keep in mind when he practiced and worked but I realized that when he was in a wrestling match he would move any way he could to pin his opponent.

When his parents heard that this might be a disc problem they were immediately more concerned, wanted him to stop wrestling and see an Orthopaedic Surgon. Part of their response to this problem was prompted by the fact that his father has had a two bad-back surgeries, as a result of high school sports. Im sure that they were afraid that their son might have the same long-term problems that his father has had. A wise British osteopathic practitioner that I was taking a course from asked the class what we thought people wanted most when they sought help from a practitioner. We generally answered to get out of pain. He said no, what they want most is reassurance. Reassurance that the problem is not something sinister like cancer or a debilitating disc problem and that the problem can get better.

There are a few musculoskeletal diagnoses that spark fear into the hearts of those who hear them. A disc herniation and arthritis are two of them.Yet both of these problems can readily respond to physical treatment. With certain mobilization techniques and exercises, people with nasty dsic problems can get their back moving better and stronger and take the irritation off the disc (and nerves if they are involved).One of the keys is patience and putting effort into helping the problem.

I am always suprised how impatient we are with our bodies and the healing process. People that will spend hours and months on projects like surfing the internet, rebuilding old cars, and gardening are often loath to give a few minutes a day to help themselves stay healthy or to regain health. Once we find out it is not a sinister problem, we often want a quick fix for our problems or want someone with "authority" to tell us there is a quick fix for our problems. Often there is not a quick fix. A series of treatment sessions can get people better and back to their activities but it takes time and an investment of effort from the person. Surgery, injections and other invasive treatments, for the appropriate candidiates, can help people get back to their activities but it takes time to heal from the surgery and effort afterward. I often see people after low back surgery for rehabilitation. Even though the surgery has ostentably "fixed" the problem, people still need to get the joints moving, get the swelling down, get the muscles stronger and regain to the function of the affected area. So, you can see, there is no quick fix. For most people I work with, there is no surgical option. Time, treatment, self-management, learning from our condition and patience are the solution.

The goal of sports medicine and physical therapy is to help people recover from injury, prevent injury and continue on with their activities (missing as few wrestling matches as possible). We must treat our bodies and psychies the way we treat our favorite hobbie, work or sports acitvity by putting effort, training and patience into getting back to where we were and forward to where we are going.

Written by Krista J. Clark, PT


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